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Discussions on Xhaka bring the spotlight on how vital the team environment is, for a player to flourish. (Image Credit: Twitter)
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The ‘Enigma’ called Granit Xhaka

Discussions on Xhaka bring the spotlight on how vital the team environment is, for a player to flourish. (Image Credit: Twitter)
Discussions on Xhaka bring the spotlight on how vital the team environment is, for a player to flourish. (Image Credit: Twitter)

A few distinguished names casually pop into our mind when we think of inspiring captains. While victories in team sport are often a mix of different parameters working in tandem with one another at the right time and space, a few team victories are driven solely by grit, passion and sheer will of just one man. They have an aura of positivity and supreme courage that infests so well through every last man in the team. With the game turning extremely systematized, such one-manships have dwindled, so to say. In the quarterfinal game between Switzerland and France, one of the most framed moments in Switzerland’s sporting history was recorded. Granit Xhaka, leader of the side which were the supposed underdogs, was captured in his element. A fervent full-time talk that had him uplifting not just his side, but the tarnished reputation of the renowned FMCG, Coca-Cola also seemed to follow in his wake.

Unyielding and firm, Xhaka fits into an extremely peculiar mould among all the other deep-lying midfielders of his era. After a fallout with the Arsenal supporters last season, Xhaka’s future at the club seemed bleak. It took the arrival of Mikel Arteta to revive the Swissman’s fortunes whose departure seemed very obvious at one point. This was 2019. Cut to two years later now, the man had just come back from a decent club season, leading his national side to the Euros, pulling off a near-impossible feat in the pre-quarters by ousting France out of the tournament. Whenever on the pitch, Xhaka is known for exerting a considerable influence both on his teammates and opposition alike. The fact that Xhaka was handed over the armband to him by every manager he’s played under is so telling of his personality and character. While all this is said and considered, what do you think could be the proverbial elephant in the room?

It’s been widely contested and argued that the Premier League is the most challenging in varied aspects. If you aren’t at ease with the club and the city where you spend the whole year, chances are that you might not make it big. Xhaka’s arrival at North London in 2016 was greeted by much fanfare and interest with Wenger publicly stating that they had found a future leader in Xhaka. After making a modest start to his life in England, it had been a tumultuous ride for him.

For those who are prone to making deductions on the outset, Xhaka is the most convenient scapegoat anyone could ever ask for. But with players like him, it is not just those errors leading up to the goal that define him. Andre Pirlo’s greatest strength wasn’t about crunching tackles, piercing passes that break defenses. It is the calming influence that he provided in the heart of the midfield. Though Xhaka doesn’t draw many parallels with the Italian legend, a slender comparison helps reinforce the stand on how there are certain aspects in a football field that can never be quantified, come what may.

Unai Emery’s managerial blunder

The later part of Wenger’s reign characterized an Arsenal that lacked in structure and organization. So much that individual’s errors had started to become so glaringly visible. The appointment of Unai Emery finally stirred the hornet’s nest. The fanbase started to lose their confidence in a lot of players who were otherwise deemed to be the key members. Changing managers did little to amend things. Arsenal’s woes continued to worsen when Unai Emery supposedly made his biggest managerial blunder in appointing Granit Xhaka as the club captain for the new 2019-20 season. This appointment was also met with another controversial incident where Mesut Ozil had started to fall out of favor with the manager. As a seasoned coach, Emery should have known better than to appoint a captain who was clearly not well received by the fans. This brought the spotlight onto him even more intensely than it previously was. As it eventually turned out, it clearly didn’t augur well for Xhaka.

Dissecting Xhaka’s play, it comes as an obvious thought that his playing style largely revolves around the players that he usually gets paired with. His thundering freekicks are a huge bonus but can only be exploited when he has the freedom to burst forward. The structure often demanded that he remained more defensive, as against his role in the national side where he is predominantly deployed as an attacking central midfielder. On the contrary, his playmaking ability was put to good use. It makes for an interesting observation that Xhaka was more attack-minded in his passing than any other player in the league of his mould. Coming back to our previous argument on errors leading upto the goal, Xhaka is often left to fend for himself in fulfilling the duties of acting as a shield while also initializing transitions. This is where his vulnerabilities are most exposed. For that matter, a lot of our key defenders have been equally lackadaisical, but it is Xhaka who had to face the brunt of criticism and abuse.

On the other end of the spectrum, Xhaka dons the role of being the most influential player in the Swiss side. Across various sports, there are instances where the added responsibility of being a captain grows very well on a few. So much that it unleashes their best version in ways that were hetero unobserved until then. Xhaka is someone who wears the armband like an armour. It is his source of encouragement that brings the best out of him. His exploits for the national side are legendary for the same reason.

Discussions on Xhaka bring the spotlight on how vital the team environment is, for a player to flourish. Arsenal Football Club have been low on spirits for a very long time now and there’s no wonder why a distraught Granit Xhaka is looking for a move. After being their most consistent performer last season, it is understood that parting ways is the most viable solution for both parties. Comparisons could be drawn with Paul Pogba whose phenomenal display at Euros helped France get the better of their opponents in a few games. Whereas for the club, United have been trying every means to unlock Pogba into their system for the last 5 years. A player not being in the right state of mind does not bode well for the club. No better examples than Xhaka and Pogba to prove it.

A move to AS Roma, who recently appointed Jose Mourinho as their new manager might just be what Xhaka wants. Parting ways isn’t that hard for him as he was fated to make the switch a long time ago. He will turn 29 this coming September and by the look of it, there seems to be a lot in his tank before he hangs his boots off. Viewer’s subjectivity has been much avered in the sport and notwithstanding which side of the debate you stand on, Granit Xhaka is and will continue to remain as one of the most revered personalities in the footballing world.

Written By: Anirudh Madedhi


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